Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

11: Family contact

Standard 11:

Every prisoner is encouraged and facilitated to maintain positive family and close, significant relationships.


Children and families affected by imprisonment are often referred to as the ‘hidden’ or ‘forgotten victims of crime’. While families and children have committed no crime themselves, they are punished indirectly for the actions of their parent or family member. Children have the right to maintain regular and direct contact with their parent. [301] Every member of the family maintains a right to family life [302] . Maintaining positive family contact is also a crucial factor in the rehabilitation and desistance process.

Current context:

In 2017, IPRT in conjunction with the School of Law, University College Cork and the Children’s Rights Alliance launched a Principles of Action document for children with a parent in prison. [303] It identified this issue as primarily a child rights issue, which should be supported via cross-sectoral strategy led by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. In 2018, IPRT made a submission [304] to the Department of Education and Skills highlighting that children of prisoners were a group that should be provided with additional supports.

A survey [305] on the family contact needs of prisoners, undertaken by the Irish Prison Service in conjunction with IPRT and Datakind (now Data4Good), highlighted that the main request from prisoners to improve family contact is to increase the number of phone calls.

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 11

Indicator S11.1: Availability of child-friendly visiting conditions across the prison estate: In July 2017 the Director General of the IPS committed to all prisons having roundtable visiting conditions within a year. [306] The Minister for Justice and Equality stated in a recent PQ that all prisons across the estate now have ‘child-friendly’ visiting conditions. [307] A number of other progressive developments have been referenced including the opening of new visitor areas in Limerick Prison [308] and Castlerea Prison. [309]

Indicator S11.2: Regular family contact, specifically via phone calls, Skype programmes, contact visits and availability of weekend and evening visits: In response to a recent PQ, the Minister for Justice and Equality stated that “temporary release for access/visits to children for family occasions is regularly approved in most prisons”. [310] Furthermore, the Minister stated that all prisons facilitate visits on Saturday to take into account the needs of families, with Sunday visits available in the two Open Centres and Cloverhill Prison. [311] However Skype contact is not currently the norm in most prisons.

Indicator S11.3: Supports for children affected by parental imprisonment: There is a Family Links Co- ordinator and a family imprisonment group in each prison. [312] In response to a recent PQ, the Minister for Justice and Equality highlighted that family friendly training is provided to ‘front of house’ prison staff to improve staff awareness of the effects of imprisonment on families. Training in the Children First [313] guidance is also provided.

More must be done to increase the awareness of professionals working with children affected by parental imprisonment outside prison. One group of particular relevance is teachers. As highlighted at the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child Day of General Discussion 2011:

Guidance should be prepared and training provided so that teachers and other adults in schools are aware of the particular needs of children of incarcerated parents and can appropriately support such children in their performance, attendance and behaviour. [314]

Progressive Practice:

Invisible Walls, HMP Parc, Wales [315]

Invisible Walls Wales is a multi-agency project in HMP Parc. It is based on a ‘whole family’ model of supports for prisoners and their families. The project has three main aims, to:

  1. Improve the quality of family life
  2. Reduce the likelihood of re-offending
  3. Reduce the likelihood of intergenerational offending

The key distinction of this programme is its focus on the whole family as opposed to the rehabilitation of the individual prisoner. A number of important results were associated with this programme:

Memorandum of Understanding and Charter for Children of Imprisoned Parents, Italy

Italy has implemented a Memorandum of Understanding [316] between the Ministry of Justice, the National Ombudsman for Childhood and Adolescence, and the charity Bambinisenzasbarre, as well as a Charter for Children of Imprisoned Parents. Following the Memorandum agreement, Bambinisenzasbarre developed a training programme to improve relationships between staff, prisoners, and their families and children, and to develop professional standards of duties and behaviour towards family members. [317]

Finnish Legislation

A 2015 law introduced in Finland makes provision for all prisons to have special visiting rooms for children who are visiting parents where they are allowed to touch and hug their parents. [318]

New: Council of Europe (CoE) Recommendation [319] on Children of Imprisoned Parents (2018)

The CoE recently adopted a recommendation on Children of Imprisoned Parents. There are seven basic principles that member states should follow:

  1. Children with imprisoned parents shall be treated with respect for their human rights and with due regard for their particular situation and needs. These children shall be provided with the opportunity for their views to be heard, directly or indirectly, in relation to decisions which may affect them. Measures that ensure child protection, including respect for the child’s best interests, family life and privacy shall be integral to this, as shall be the measures which support the role of the imprisoned parent from the start of detention and after release.
  2. Where a custodial sentence is being contemplated, the rights and best interests of any affected children should be taken into consideration and alternatives to detention be used as far as possible and appropriate, especially in the case of a parent who is a primary caregiver.
  3. Whenever a parent is detained, particular consideration shall be given to allocating them to a facility close to their children.
  4. When deciding to transfer sentenced persons to or from a State in which their children reside due regard shall be given to the best interests of the child when considering the rehabilitation purpose of the transfer.
  5. The prison administration shall endeavour to collect and collate relevant information at entry regarding the children of those detained.
  6. National authorities shall endeavour to provide sufficient resources to State agencies and civil society organisations to support children with imprisoned parents and their families to enable them to deal effectively with their particular situation and specific needs, including offering logistic and financial support, where necessary, in order to maintain contact.
  7. Appropriate training on child-related policies, practices and procedures, shall be provided for all staff in contact with children and their imprisoned parents.

The recommendation provides further details for States to look to for best practice in key areas such as (i) police detention, judicial orders and sentences (ii) conditions of imprisonment (iii) staff working with and for children of imprisoned parents (v) monitoring (vi) research and evaluation of child-friendly practices and policies, and (vii) working with the media.

Actions required:

Action 11.1: IPRT urges all relevant stakeholders (including the judiciary, prisons, probation, media and government departments such as education and health) to consider their role in the implementation in Ireland of the CoE recommendation on children affected by parental imprisonment. The CoE recommendation should be promoted widely by the State, with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs taking lead responsibility
Action 11.2: The Department of Children and Youth Affairs should recognise this group of children as a cohort with specific needs and supports in their own right and must lead in developing a cross-sectoral strategy to address their needs.
Action 11.3: The Department of Justice and Equality and the Irish Prison Service should publish a report on the work achieved and outstanding in advancing the rights and needs of children and families.


IPRT Irish Penal Reform Trust


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